Ed tech: romantics or pragmatists?

There are two distinct ways of thinking about education and technology, writes Rick Hess, who’s just back from a three-day symposium on “Personalized Learning.”

The romanticist camp traces its roots to Rousseau’s Emile and its radical “progressive” vision of the unchained learner. This stance, voiced by so many educational administrators and pedagogues talking of the “tyranny of testing,” celebrates the need to let “imagination blossom” and recoils from the notion that kids need to learn dates, facts, or formulas when these can be Googled on the nearest iPhone.

The productivity camp has more faith in pedestrian notions of essential knowledge and the teacher’s central role. It regards technology as a tool for delivering instruction in new and more powerful ways, for engaging student interest, and enhancing educational productivity and efficiency. Folks in this camp hail sophisticated and finely calibrated assessments, and have talked with gusto about devising powerful algorithms for configuring instruction (such as that which underlies NYC’s School of One initiative).

Funders often are attracted by the cheerful vision of “googly-eyed progressives,” Hess writes.

Now, I’m all in favor of breaking down old systems and allowing students to learn in new ways, at an appropriate pace and in the manner they prefer — but I worry about inattention or hostility to measures which ensure that students are actually learning, or which leave what and how much gets learned to the mercy of adolescent whims.

What he said. Just because students are engaged doesn’t mean they’re learning what we old fogies have concluded they need to learn.

Community College Spotlight looks at new research that finds today’s high-tech students use the same ineffective study techniques as in the paper-and-highlighter days.

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  1. j.d. salinger says:

    Hess has been blogging about education for several years now and he’s just coming around to what many people here have been saying? Slow news day at AEI and EdWeek, Rick?

  2. CarolineSF says:

    Yet this overlooks the fact that so many of the forces who endorse the test-and-punish philosophy could be the ones described as googly-eyed — the “it’s a miracle!” true believers, a faction heavy on people who never set a toe in a classroom and have no contact with actual messy, noisy, problematic, unpredictable young people. And it’s the test-and-punish “reform” fads that are attracting torrents of money from the billionaires.


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